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Saving Whales to Save Ourselves: Shared Survival through Whale Research with Iain Kerr (Episode #116)

A constant source of wonder in the world is learning about innovators who use technology in wildly novel ways to do tasks that used to be chores or next to impossible. Our guest, Dr. Iain Kerr, is at the center of that kind of wonder with the way he combines drone technology, the science of snot, and the study of whales. (Yes, you read that right.) Even if you are not a science enthusiast, Iain’s take on progress, finding purpose, perseverance, and innovative thinking will simply put a spring in your step.

Episode Highlights

About Our Guest:

For almost 40 years, the organization Dr. Iain Kerr guides—Ocean Alliance—has made a remarkably positive difference in this world. His level of hope, cleverness, and joy is truly infectious! He’s been studying whales in novel ways for 35 years and his take on the scope of time is fascinating. 

His personal story of how he came to discover his calling began with a lot of random interests and seemingly disconnected skills, but here on the Conspiracy of Goodness Podcast, we see that sort of serendipity quite often leads to amazing places. 

Iain began his career at Ocean Alliance as a volunteer and has grown with the organization over the last 30 years. He has led international conservation research efforts across the globe, is listed as author on over 50 scientific papers, and has ensured that Ocean Alliance message reaches the general public through an enormous body of work on international television and films. 

In the 1990’s, Ocean Alliance began showing the people of the world images of these beautiful animals that had never been captured before, and was involved in over 40 documentaries, including the IMAX movie Whales.

Then they were involved in the five-year Gulf of Mexico program, an effort to determine the extent of marine pollution from both the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and run-off from the Mississippi River on ocean life in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2014, Iain was CEO of the Ocean Alliance and he recognized that drones could be the future of whale research and conservation, so the Ocean Alliance’s research activities switched.

The Drones for Whale Research (DFWR) program was born with the flagship SnotBot program at its core, aiming to facilitate and accelerate the use of drones in marine mammal science. 

Following this conversation, you may be filled with so much curiosity that you want to continue this journey of wonder with Iain. Here is a list of marvelous links to explore:

Iain is a real believer in technology and feels that drones have immense potential in cetacean science and conservation as cost-effective, scalable, adaptable, and non-invasive tools which have significant implications for management strategies and policies worldwide. Over the past year or so, the fruits of the team’s efforts have been rewarded, and drones are rapidly becoming key components of whale research programs all across the planet.

In 2014, the Annenberg Foundation listed Iain as one of 25 visionary leaders We could go on and on about the Ocean Alliance’s accomplishments and awards.

Our conversation was so fun and inspiring that we recorded for over two hours on two different occasions, so you may see a moment or two when his shirt changes and he magically grows a beard! 

Bottom line: Dr. Iain Kerr is the kind of person that can get you excited about a world of possibility even if you don’t see yourself as a “whale lover.” His work brings us a refreshing perspective full of hope, surprising facts, and the sense that anything is possible. 

Show Notes

  • Sylvia Earle
  • Ocean conservation
  • 71% of this planet is covered with water
  • Phytoplanktons
  • Two out of three breathes come from the phytoplanktons
  • Whales are the earthworm of the sea
  • Ocean productivity has declined for over thirty years
  • Whales face threats than they ever faced
  • The whale pump
  • The bell weather of ocean health
  • Our oceans are downhill from everything
  • Ocean research
  • The endangered species paradox
  • The Snot-bot
  • Smelly means productive
  • The drones
  • Technology will not save the world
  • Do what you can do
  • Adopt a whale
  • If you don’t fit in, that’s an asset not a liability
  • Arc of time
  • Singing whales/ whale songs
  • National Geographic
  • Money equals data
  • Patagonia
  • Do something and it will change the world
  • Thinking outside of the box is crucial
  • Dr. Roger Payne
  • Old building
  • Tagging whales
  • 400 meters away from the whale
  • Jane Goodall
  • Ocean X
  • Whale is worth of billion of dollars in its lifetime alive compared to dead
  • It is your self-interest to protect the whales
  • Hawaii
  • We got to come together

Resources Mentioned:

How Whale Snot is Saving an Ocean Near You!

Whale biologists at the Ocean Alliance are pioneering a new, non-invasive way to study whales using drones that allows scientists to observe whales like never before. These insights are giving us a glimpse into the lives of the largest creatures to ever live, and helping us understand how to better protect the oceans that they call home and we depend on.

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